I have already talked at length about Russian contributions to the field (here and here), so it was really only a matter of time before I would get around to Marxism. As you will hopefully all remember from history class, the aim of Marxism is to bring about a classless society, based on the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange; it sees progress as coming about through the struggle for power between different social classes. I won’t go through the entire Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital with you, but only focus on those ideas and concepts that shape Marxist literary criticism.
“Penny Dreadful” still.
“It would not be too much to say that Anglo-American feminist criticism barely existed before [Gilbert and Gubar] rocked literary studies.”
Deborah D. Rogers, The Times Higher Education.
In 1979, Susan Gubar and Sandra M. Gilbert published The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, a hallmark of second-wave feminist criticism. Over 700 pages long, The Madwoman in the Attic presents an analysis of a trope found in 19th-century literature. Gilbert and Gubar proposed that all female characters in male-authored novels can be categorised as either an angel or a monster; women in fiction were either pure and submissive or sensual, rebellious, and uncontrollable (very undesirable qualities in a Victorian daughter/mother/wife).
Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga, illustration by Ivan Bilibin.
Before we dive in, I would recommend reading this post on Russian formalism first for the necessary critical context.
“Death found an author writing his life” (E. Hull, 1827).
This is one of those texts that are absolutely inescapable for literature students. Wherever you live, whichever classes you choose, at one point in your academic career you will encounter Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author.” Whether you agree with him or not, Barthes introduced a concept that was truly revolutionary and is still a game-changing read for many first- and second-year literature students to this day.
So let’s blow some minds.